Following a Canadian tradition that goes back to English explorer Martin Frobisher in 1578, Canadians today are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.
The American holiday of the same name, held in late November, gets all the attention now, especially for the shopping orgy that accompanies it; but consumerism wasn’t on Frobisher’s mind when he and his crew held the first Thanksgiving observance in the New World 43 years before the more celebrated American Pilgrim event.
French explorer Samuel de Champlain, in 1604 in what is now known as Nova Scotia, also held a Thanksgiving ceremony, an event I remember learning about in third grade: the Order of Good Cheer. No trips to the shopping mall for that one either.
As a national holiday, Thanksgiving in Canada has moved around a bit, being celebrated on various days in October and November until being settled in 1957 as the second Monday of October. Which makes sense when you think of it; in October we can celebrate and be thankful for the harvest. At the end of November, when the Americans celebrate, Canadians are facing possible blizzards and are in a less than thankful mood.
Like many of our holidays, Thanksgiving has lost touch with its roots. Nobody asks anymore, to whom are we giving thanks, why and for what? I suspect that the Act of Parliament that created the holiday would be worded much differently if it were to be introduced today. In these politically correct days “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed” isn’t likely to be accepted by much of our population. In 1957 there is no doubt that Parliamentarians intended the reference to “Almighty God” to be to the Christian God (or as Christians would emphasize, the only true God). Nowadays there would be too much fear of causing offense to Muslims and others to do that, not to mention lengthy debates in Parliament to determine just what or who is God in Canadian society in 2014.
Despite there being not much religious attached to the tradition anymore, most Canadians are thankful today. It is a holiday, no work or school for most people. Families gather for a celebratory meal.
Most Canadians talk about there being a separation of church and state, which is an American concept that has spread to the north without any real basis in law or even tradition. While we do not have a state church, our head of state is also head of a major Christian church. On paper anyway there certainly isn’t much separation. The idea though is that government does not get involved in religion, and certainly doesn`t favour one religion over another.
It is a strange situation. We live in an increasingly secular, multicultural and multi-ethnic culture, but our holidays (holy days) have religious roots, specifically Christian ones. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, even Remembrance Day have Christian origins, though they may no longer be celebrated in the fashion that was the case when they originated.
I am surprised someone hasn’t taken the issue on and launched a lawsuit to have our holidays abolished, or at least renamed. Or perhaps those people of different or no religious tradition realize that today Thanksgiving (and our other holidays) is more just a day off work than a celebration of our Christian heritage. And everybody likes a day off work.